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Other Smart Moves from the Past 25 Years: The Luke Voit trade

His future with the team is unclear, but Voit provided badly needed stability at first base.

MLB: New York Yankees at Los Angeles Angels Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Our “25 Smartest Moves of the Past 25 Moves” series might have concluded, but with the lockout still in force, we took this past week to shout out five other savvy transactions that just barely missed the cut of the top 25 vote. Thank you again for following along with this series and stay tuned for our Top Prospects series coming next week!

The Yankees’ search for the first baseman of the future following the retirement of Mark Teixeira did not initially run smoothly. Greg Bird was expected to enter the starting role in 2017, but the foot injuries that derailed his once promising career struck in May. That led to first base being a revolving door for the likes of Chris Carter, Garrett Cooper, Chase Headley, and even Matt Holliday. Bird would miss a large part of 2018 as well, yielding playing time to Tyler Austin and Neil Walker.

When the Yankees traded Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to the St. Louis Cardinals for Luke Voit in late July, a little consistency and some power was all he needed to grab hold of the position. He did a lot more than that. While at certain points he’s been one of the best hitters in the league, injuries have slowed his output, and may have ended his run with New York.

Trade Details: Chasen Shreve and Giovanny Gallegos to St. Louis; Luke Voit and bonus pool money to New York

Transaction Date: July 27, 2018

NYY stats: 281 G, .271/.363/.520, 38 2B, 68 HR, 124 BB, 137 OPS+, 4.5 rWAR, 5.8 fWAR

Voit was an immediate breath of fresh air as soon as he stepped foot in the Bronx. Despite arriving with only two months to go in the 2018 regular season, he posted a 1.9 fWAR with the team in what playing time he did have, slugging 14 home runs in 39 games, good for an absurd .333/.405/.689 triple slash with a 195 wRC+. All of a sudden, the Yankees had their starting first baseman, and one who would be under team control until 2025.

Although he’d miss two months of 2019 with an abdominal injury, Voit would be a key player for the 103-win team. He showed a propensity to strike out, but his season OPS+ was 124, and his 71 walks led the offense even given the time he missed.

It was in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season that Voit truly turned heads all around the league, though. He led MLB with 22 home runs, a ridiculous total for a 60-game season with a shortened spring training. His 1.8 fWAR was a hair higher than his 2019 mark despite playing in 62 fewer games. He only placed ninth in AL MVP voting, but his slugging percentage was second in the league, only behind eventual winner José Abreu.

The 2021 season was expected to be more of the same. Unfortunately, in late March it was revealed that Voit would begin the season on the injured list after undergoing surgery on a torn meniscus. A knee injury is a concern, especially for a player so dependent on power to be successful, and Voit did struggle upon returning. And unlike in previous seasons, he had to keep returning to the IL or the bench with more ailments, including an oblique strain and a bone bruise in his knee. The Yankees traded for Anthony Rizzo to regain some consistency at first base, and he kept the role even when Voit insisted he was ready to play. As the season went along, Voit was barely seen at all, but his discontent with the situation was a common YES Network talking point.

That treatment of Voit to close last season makes it feel a little unlikely that the team will feel comfortable rolling with him as the starter in 2022, at least without a solid backup. When the lockout ends, if the team goes after Rizzo, Matt Olson, or Freddie Freeman, it would likely spell the end of Voit’s time with the Yankees. They surely could get at least a decent prospect for a team interested in his still tantalizing power and the years of team control he still has.

Gallegos has turned into a solid reliever with the Cardinals, posting a 2.80 FIP and striking out 211 over 170.2 innings pitched with the team. Losing Shreve was nothing to bat an eye over. Gaining a starter on offense at a position of need for two relievers was a mammoth move for the Yankees. It’ll be a pity if it ends on a sour note; maybe Voit will a healthy Yankee to start the season, ready to hit again with a vengeance.